Friday, September 14, 2012

No "Weekend Flashback" this week. D=

Sorry to say it, but there won't be a weekend flashback from me this week. My dog had surgery on Tuesday, and while he's recovering during this first week, taking care of him is more important than a blog segment on old games. Or any blogging at all, really.

For those interested in hearing why that'd be such a huge diversion to blogging, he had a torn ligament and got it fixed. He's home now, and on pain meds, but he needs post-op care like massages and prom (passive range of motion) exercises to keep bruising and trauma low and to help keep him comfortable. It's also got the added benefit of reducing his recovery time.

Things should go back to normal after this week. I should have things queued up, if nothing else, before the end of next week. I can't make any promises, though, because my dog is my literal best friend, and his health and safety come way before any blog could ever dream of.

Peace out, peeps, I'll be writing again soon.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Girl Time! Review: John Frieda Precision Foam Colour

Okay, the rumors are true. For those of you who keep gazing at my Blogger profile, wondering how I got my hair to be such a vibrant yellow, gaze and wonder no more: Yellow is not my natural hair color.

It's actually this awful golden brown, like perfectly done toast.

So, I dye it semi-regularly. Usually it's the golden blond of my childhood. Or of Thor, but mostly my childhood, and sometimes I deviate from that with the help of my awesome hairdresser.

The complete kit. Simple and easy.
Today, I decided not to use my hairdresser for the first time in five years and dye it myself. The color I chose was Medium Burgundy from John Frieda's foam-based haircolor line.

"Foam?" I asked myself in the middle of the aisle whilst people milled around me. "How will this work, I wonder?" You have to remember, when I was dying my hair in high school, "foam" was not an option. It was a messy cream-based crap the got everywhere except in my hair and left huge undyed patches everywhere. Gross.

So I picked up this... "foam" and went about my merry way.

So, what's the point of this vignette? The point is this: HOLY CRAP I LOVE THIS FOAM HAIR DYE. WTF.

This stuff is so easy to use. I'm no stranger to hair dyes and hair dying supplies: I regularly dye my friends' hair all the time, I know my way around equipment. But this was so easy to use by myself that I was a little bit amazed. Foam doesn't get all over the place like the cream-based colors did. It's foam; it stays roughly where you put it. That's what I did with it, and it worked beautifully.

The other thing I really liked about the stuff? It covered all of my hair. My hair's long - it goes to the small of my back - and it's thick, to boot, so with cream based colors I was always getting two boxes of stuff. Not with this shit. I had extra in the container when I was done. That just doesn't happen! It was awesome.

And the results are amazing. I can't stress it enough. All the superlatives in the entire world are useless when describing my pleasure of having bought this. I'm sure that it would have been the same for any foam-based color, but this stuff is pretty. And oh my god is it red or what? I mean, really, the reds that I was looking at were like copper orange and strawberry blondes. But this is a really beautiful deep red. Look at it:

You're looking at the Color of Awesome, right there.

Yeah, that's me rockin' that new red. Oh man, so much better than that blonde I was just keeping around.

So, yeah, totes look at foam color next time you do your hair. And if you're looking for a red with depth, you can't go wrong with this stuff. It's pretty, it's vibrant, and it's really easy to use. It's a little more expensive ($11.99) than the L'Oreal or Herbal Essences dyes (which are both around $8.50 where I am,) but it really is worth it for its vibrant color and shine.

You can visit the John Frieda website here.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Weekend Flashback #5: Crash Bandicoot (PSO, 1996)

Title: Crash Bandicoot
Original Release Date: August 31, 1996
Platform: Playstation 
ESRB Rating: K-A (Current ESRB: E)

Crash Bandicoot used to be fun. When Naughty Dog was still in charge of it, it was a fairly entertaining, albeit basic, action platformer. The characters were mostly memorable, the levels pretty, and the music good.

Oh, wait, Crash Bandicoot was none of those things. Actually, it was exactly the opposite.

Before all my other friends were having fun with Spyro the Dragon, I was busy hating myself with the original Crash Bandicoot. It was a decent enough platformer for its time, I suppose, but it hasn't aged well at all. The controls are buggy at best, the camera angles suck, and it varies wildly between being impossibly difficult and simply too easy to bear. And yet, when it came out, it was given generally positive reviews.

But that was 1996. It's 2012 now, and that's the point. Trying to replay this was torturous at its worst and tedious at best. It's almost tough to believe that I ever had a good time with this game as a kid, especially enough to buy the later games in the series. Like I said above, the cameras are buggy now that I've grown accustomed to tight cameras, and the game's controls seem loose and unresponsive, which I believe was Dave's complaint about the game back when we first got it. This game introduces the major characters - Dr. Cortex, Aku Aku, Uka Uka, and Crash himself (obviously) - but they really came into their own in later games. The platforming isn't anything special and could actually be considered mediocre at best, even among platformers of its time.

I'm almost surprised that this game was successful enough to spawn sequels at all. I'm not saying that I'm not glad: I am, because the series would later become one of my favorites, starting with Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back. The series got a rough start, but it vastly improved with later installments.

Verdict: Unless you want a bout of nostalgia, skip it. Go for Crash Bandicoot 2 instead.

Notes: Crash Bandicoot is available on PSN for both PS3 and PSP play.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Review: Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One (PS3)

Title: Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One
System: Playatation 3
ESRB Rating: E 10+
Number of Players: 1-4 player co-op, online capabilities
Buy It: Amazon | GameStop |

By this point, everyone is sick of me talking incessantly about how much I love Ratchet & Clank. Well, call me honey badger because I don't care. I've been a fan of the Ratchet and Clank series since its launch in 2002. With each of the main games that came out, I liked the series even more. It was a mix of insanely bizarre weapons, an engaging story, completely loveable characters, and modern platforming (done right!) that drew me to the series in the first place. Even as the series evolved and moved onto the PS3, I still loved the series. I even enjoyed (thoroughly) the spinoffs Size Matters and Secret Agent Clank, despite their flaws.

So, despite the fan attack, I'm going to say this right out in the open, unashamed: I thoroughly enjoyed the shit out of Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One.

I know, I know. Fans of the series typically hated this game because it deviated from the R&C norm that we've come to expect from the series. But that was part of what really drew me to it: it was different than what I'd come to expect, and for the first time, I could play a game from this series with another person. Or, as luck would have it, a group of people. (I wasn't lucky enough to have anyone to play Deadlocked with me as a kid.)

The story isn't quite as deep as I've come to expect from a Ratchet and Clank game. We're greeted with a beautifully-rendered cutscene of Ratchet and Clank escorting Qwark to an awards ceremony that seems (to our titular heroes) to be a fishy. When they finally get to the podium that's been set up for Qwark, it's revealed that Nefarious is the villain behind the "ceremony," and our heroes prepare themselves for a Class-A beatdown. Unfortunately for Nefarious, he gets caught up in the chaos unleashed by his own plan and gets himself abandoned by Lawrence, leaving him to work with Qwark, Clank, and Ratchet. They all then get captured by the real threat, and the four of them have to work together while they await rescue from Cronk and Zephyr.

A lot of the complaints that I've read about the game talk about how it's not really a "co-op" game because you're working against your teammates as much as you're working with them. That's true, so my friends and I affectionately call these kinds of games "competitive co-op" games. It's the same kind of classification we give to Castle Crashers. As much as you'll be working with friends to complete puzzles and unlock doors, you'll be competing for bolts (the R&C universe's currency) and critters, cute little creatures that unlock bonus puzzles. If your friends are already competitive by nature, then this is already right up your alley. The winner at the end of the round gets a bonus in bolts, and every character gets a title after the battle. (For example, if you collected the most bolts, you'd be the Bolt Master, whereas if you died the most, you'd get the title Noob.)

One of my biggest qualms with the game doesn't lie in the "co-op vs. not co-op" debate, but in the fact that you can't level up your weapons like fans have grown accustomed to over the course of the series. You have to buy your upgrades instead of earning them, and sometimes, the upgrades really don't feel worth the bolts I have to pour into them. The other is that, while you can play the game by yourself, the AI that you get paired up with isn't always smart enough to get the hint. Sometimes, it gets caught and runs itself into circles while driving the player character crazy.

Other times, working with other players isn't much better. The range for working on the level is very narrow, making it frustrating for someone in the party to go back and get something when everyone else is trying to move forward. Other times, someone's clumsiness causes everyone else to commit mass party-suicide when they slip off of a hookshot point or when they pull someone off the edge while they try to tether forward to the rest of the party. And on grind rail levels, try to make sure whoever is playing as Quark stays in the back, because he's almost impossible to see around. The other characters - even Nefarious, despite his height - are narrow and easy to see past, but Quark is a wall of body mass. Most of these things are overlooked, though, while we're busy laughing at each other for being so unbelievably stupid. (Not that thing about Quark, though, we all really hate that guy.)

The weapons system is difficult at times, as well, especially when not working with the AI. Players can choose which of their weapons to use, and while that's great most of the time, damage bonuses are awarded when two or more players use the same weapon against an enemy. Many times - especially against bosses - that damage bonus is the deciding factor between winning the battle and resurrecting your friends. But unless you and your teammates are really good at guessing each other's movements and weapon preferences, it's easy to get caught up in using nothing but your blaster. That's a shame, because some of the other weapons (I'm looking pointedly at the Frost Cannon and Warmonger, here) are absolutely devastating against enemies when used wisely, and become indispensable later in the game.

Overall, the game isn't as bad as some members of the fanbase want you to think it is. It's entirely too short (we've blown through the entire story in an afternoon) and some of the things we have to go through don't feel worth it for the payout, but we've each found a character we love using and when we don't have anything better to do, we automatically default onto All 4 One. If you've liked the rest of the games in the series, but you'd like a multiplayer option, then you really can do worse than this game.

Bottom Line: Certainly co-op, but competitive co-op. Awkward camera angles and character sizes make some levels really difficult, but overall not a bad experience.

Final Score: 8/10

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Weekend Flashback #4: Paper Mario (N64, 2001)

Title: Paper Mario
Original Release Date: February 5, 2001
Platform: Nintendo 64 
ESRB Rating: E

Ever encounter a game that you picked up for no other reason than because the art was unusual? I think we've all done it at one time or another. (My most recent encounter with this was The World Ends With You, for example.) That's what I did with the original Paper Mario. I wasn't really into most of the titles in the Mario franchise as a kid; I'd play them if they were there, but they were far from my first choice. So everyone was a little shocked when I picked this title up as a kid.

I didn't finish this game the first time I played through it. I got stuck on the final fight with Bowser, got frustrated, and gave up entirely. I remember doing that, and my own save file on the N64 cartridge confirmed it. So, instead of picking it up from where I left off, I played through it again. Completely, all the way through. Then I bought it from the Virtual Console store on the Wii and played it through again to see how it stacked up against the original version. Two playthroughs in about a week and a half, and I still wanted more.

Needless to say, I'm pleased all the way around.

There's something about this title that makes it truly timeless. The graphics hold up, the music is just as fun and bubbly as I always remembered it being, the worlds Mario travels through are still beautiful, and the partners he picks up are still wonderfully characterized and different. This game is still so amazing and fun to play that I honestly believe it should be in everyone's Nintendo library, and that's not something I say often. The other entries in the Paper Mario franchise are all okay, but none of them seem to live up to the standard that this one set. In terms of accessibility, anyone can play it. My nieces had a blast playing through it, as did Dave. This is one of those rare titles that, no matter what your experience level is with gaming, you can pick up and play like a pro in just a few short scenes. 

The story isn't fast-paced, per se, but it does flow very well and move fairly constantly. There's not really a lot of idle time for Mario and his friends, but it never feels like you're being rushed. There's always something to see, do, and find in every level that makes going back really rewarding (and trust me, I'm still not at 100% with my files.) Leveling up my partners is still a bit of a challenge - you don't level them up with experience, you do it by finding ultra blocks - and I spend quite a bit of time just wandering around looking for them. I know there's walkthroughs out there, I even have the original guidebook in my room, but finding them myself is half the fun. 

As for the Virtual Console version, it's been left, for the most part, untouched. Most of the controls are the same, save for commands that use the "Z" button. (On the Gamecube controller, which is what I use to play Virtual Console games on, you use the "R" button.) The game is smooth and clear on the Wii, and doesn't leave remnants if you're using a standard-def Wii on an HDTV. Overall, an enjoyable experience.

Verdict: No one should miss the original Paper Mario. It's a game that none of its sequels have matched in story, gameplay, or charm. 

Notes: As I mentioned above, this title is available on the Wii as a re-release for 1000 Wii Points. ($10)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Series Recap: Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe

So, there are no more Wednesdays in August, and that meas that the Marvel limited series Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe has come to an end. For those of you who read my review of issue #1, you'll notice that I didn't write anything about issues 2-4. Because this was a limited series, and because I didn't want to spoil anything for anybody, I decided to keep my mouth blissfully shut until the series had come to an end and talk about the series as a whole instead of issue-by-issue.

FOR MY READERS THAT HAVE NOT READ THE SERIES: This post contains spoilers. That's what the jump is for! If you intend on reading this series, and don't want important details about it ruined for you, DO NOT read this post! For everyone else, the post continues after the jump!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Weekend Flashback #3 - Pokemon Snap (1999, N64)

Title: Pokemon Snap
Original Release Date: June 30, 1999
Platform: Nintendo 64
ESRB Rating: E

One of the fastest ways to shut me up as a kid was to slap a Pokemon game in front of me. Something about the mix of turn-based combat and its simple - yet very broad - storyline kept my interest for literal hours on end. Pokemon Snap was the series' first spinoff game for a home console, and though it was extremely short, I remember it being incredibly fun.

You play as a Pokemon photographer named Todd whose job is to... well, capture pictures of Pokemon. You team up with Professor Oak, who needs help with a scientific project on an island where Pokemon live fairly undisturbed by humans. The island in the game is home to a lot of different geographic regions, which makes it an ideal place to go to research all sorts of Pokemon. Over the course of the game, Oak will rate your photos on a point system and puts them into an album that you can reference back again later. That's about as complex as the story gets.

The game starts with one stage, and as you progress through, you unlock more by meeting certain conditions or figuring out how to unlock the stages yourself. You'll also get a few nifty items, like a Pokeflute and pester balls, which will allow certain Pokemon to come out of hiding, do something special, or both. You'll also get bait to lure Pokemon out into the open. How you use these items is entirely up to you, and I'll get to that in a minute.

See, I remember this game as being fairly long. My younger cousin and I spent months playing it. Literal months. We could compete to get the best picture scores, spend hours trying to find all the different Pokemon and framing the best shot, use a complex trial-and-error system to get all the special Pokemon. It seemed like every time we thought we were done, we would discover something new.

So, how does it feel thirteen years later? Well, it feels... feels stagnant, unfortunately. See, I remember this game being really long and really complex and having a lot of hours poured into it, but when my friend Nikki and I played it together while we were revisiting it, I knew how to get everything. Every new stage, every hidden Pokemon, every nuance behind getting the "perfect shot." I remembered it all. It took a lot of the excitement and fun out of the game for me. Nikki, on the other hand, had a lot of fun playing it, and once I was able to turn my brain off, I enjoyed myself as well.

The "fun component" that I always seem to be talking about is severely lacking here, though, as far as following the story goes. While both Crash Team Racing and Ratchet and Clank feel timeless, Pokemon Snap feels tedious and tired. And oh my God the music. May God himself have mercy on your soul when you replay this game. As Dave pointed out, the music is tedious, tired, repetitive, and just plain awful. It did not, by any means, age well. Even CTR, which came out in the same year, had better music behind it than this. My great grandmother's funeral had better music behind it than this.

The part that was fun, though, wasn't the game itself, but the results screen when we were done taking pictures. See, now that Nikki and I are older, we pick up on certain things that we didn't notice then.

Like what a pervert Professor Oak really is.
We didn't alter this at all. This really happened in-game.
Seriously, we took a lot of oddball pictures, and soon the game wasn't about taking the best picture, it was taking the strangest, most effed up pictures we could manage within the one stage and sixty pictures we were allotted. We had more fun pelting Pikachu with bait and making Electabuzz fall flat on his face than we did trying to get Snorlax to wake the hell up. We tormented poor Meowth by making him fall off his platform, then worsened the blow by whacking him relentlessly with pester balls. We bounced apples off of a herd of Charmanders' heads to see them cringe, then laughed and made fun of them as they roared at us in their cute little Charmander voices. We knocked Charmeleon into a vat of lava, not to see him evolve, but because we could knock him into a vat of lava. We made two Magmar fight each other just to see one get knocked out.

This one was more a victim of
circumstance. Still comedy gold,
We did countless other things to these poor, friendly Pokemon that would make PETA shit their pants in horror. And we did it because we could, and because the option was there.

And, really, what more fun is there than that in this universe?

Verdict: Taking the perfect picture of a Pokemon isn't fun. Having Professor Oak laugh at fainted Pokemon is.

Notes: If you want to relive Snap and have your own hours of hilarity, you can purchase this title again in the Wii's Virtual Console store for 1000 Wii Points (or, you know, ten dolla holla in real money.)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Hey, look!

In case you were wondering, I've set up two new tabs for easier blog browsing. They're the "Weekend Flashback" and "Game Review" tabs listed at the top of the page, and will be continually updated as I post new reviews!

Happy reading!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Rant: It's not even here yet, but I hate Marvel Now! and everything in it.

I mentioned this in my last post, and I'll say it again: I am not, in any way at all, looking forward to Marvel Now! to happen. I think it's a stupid idea, and my friend, co-writer, and fellow blogger Leena agrees with me wholeheartedly. After a lot of thought, I've decide that I'll share the list with you about why we're not feeling this brand-ass new revision of the Marvel 'verse. I'll start with what we've heard, in italics, then we'll post our rebuttal.

We're not trying to make enemies, here, Internet, so calm yo' tits. We're just trying to figure out why everyone's so excited for what boils down to a half-imagined, half-baked universe do-over.

  1. Shut up, it's not a reboot.
    No, you shut up, because it's a very well-disguised reboot. After the "aftermath" of Avengers vs. X-Men, Marvel is just going to decide to cancel everyone's current comic run and blend them together? That's not how this industry is supposed to work. Comics are supposed to be a carying group of topics and characters doing their own things. Constant universe retconning and cannon changing isn't going to keep the readership nailed down. Marvel is doing the same damn thing that DC's New 52! is doing.
    And you know what? The New 52 is tanking. Should Marvel really be following in those footsteps?
  2. It's easier to keep everything in one universe!
    This is an argument that I find stupid every time it comes up. If everything in the Marvel 'verse fits together like a puzzle, it's going to get really complicated really fast. (Ha, like it isn't already.) It's bad enough that everyone shows up in everyone else's books all the time already; we don't need to make it a constant thing. Marvel Now! feels like it's trying too hard to make everyone work together and play nice. We don't need Captain America to have another reboot, for example. He's only at #19 of his current series. Why does he need another one so soon? Not everything that can be done has been touched on in his current story; should it really be abandoned for a high-reaching idea that's ultimately going to tank?
  3. Uncanny Avengers, you guys!
    No. I get the idea behind it: In a world where the Avengers and the X-Men want to work together after working against each other, a title like Uncanny Avengers makes sense. But how long do we, as comic fans, keep biting at this? How many times do we have to suffer through a "groundbreaking" limited series before we stop caring? The answer, apparently, is every year. We just suffered though read the events of Fear Itself a year ago. A huge epic every year feels forced and tired, and isn't something that's going to keep readership going for very long.
    This pulls me into Uncanny Avengers. Yeah, it's cool that this is the first title that really meshes the Avengers and the X-Men into one title. Great. But does either team really need another book that bad? I'm getting a little sick of seeing Wolverine, Cap, and Iron Man everywhere I go. I get that they're some of the biggest names in Marvel's catalog, but Jesus Christ, can't there be a team without them? The Marvel Universe has plenty of secondary characters who are just as powerful as their A-list counterparts, why doesn't anyone take a gamble on any of them?
  4. It's more accessible to new readers.
    How? If no one is going to screw with anyone's current canon, wouldn't that make it tougher for a reader to jump right in? I'll use an example in the form of my friends: Many of them only know Marvel characters through the movies. They only know Iron Man the way that Robert Downey Jr. portrays him. they only know Captain America from the movies. They were genuinely confused by the Hulk in Marvel's The Avengers because "who's that green guy?" They had never seen him before. Sure, they knew the name, but they knew nothing of his character. When one of my friends decided that she was going to give comics an honest shot, she quickly found herself lost.
    "I don't get it, these characters have too much backstory for me to catch up on," is exactly what she told me. That's an honest answer, and verbally giving her a rundown of the character seemed to help, but does it really? Will Marvel Now! really make it easier for someone who's been interested in, say, Thor to pick up the Marvel Now! issues and not be the least bit confused by what they're reading? There's no way to make a long-running character like Thor, Cap, and Iron Man easily accessible to a new reader. The new reader has to want to jump right in and just let the issue fill in the blanks. I don't think Marvel Now! is going to be able to do that. I don't think that rebooting - because that's what this is doing to everyone - is going to give newcomers an honest shot at getting involved with comic characters. I think that longstanding, popular characters are going to become more confusing and alien to new readers, especially those who just know these beloved heroes from their movies. Canon on top of canon on top of retcon doesn't make for an easygoing character experience. It makes for a headache.
If you haven't heard about Marvel Now! before this, and you'd like to do more reading about it, I suggest that you start by checking out CBR's complete rundown, then heading on over to IGN. If you'd like to do even more reading on the topic, head on over to Newsarama and ScreenRant.

The first issues of Marvel Now! titles hit shelves in October 2012.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Oh, man, here it comes.

You knew it was going to happen. My writing is about to become horribly inconsistent.

What? But Lynnafred, you've been writing on a semi-regular basis! You even have a weekly feature you haven't screwed us over on, yet! You cry, because you're honestly distraught by the news.

It's okay, dear reader. I feel your pain. But that's why I'm coming here to talk to you. I want you to know what I've been doing, and what you can expect in the coming weeks.

See, a lot of things are coming out in the next few weeks for me. I just finished reading Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe and I intend on writing about the series as a whole since I talked about issue #1 in the beginning of the month. The Ratchet & Clank Collection comes out in literally six days, and I can't wait to give you my impression on that. I'm already working on the Weekend Flashback for three weeks from now, and it's taking me a lot longer to go through than originally intended. I'm also reading some books that I'm excited to talk about - because they're good! I'm writing short stories and looking for a publisher because that's my major. I'm looking to turn that Associate's in Arts into a Bachelor's. I'm also playing games that I hate and want to share with you, putting off games I just bought because I can't find time to write about them, and talking with my awesome friend Leena Lee Lecroix of the newly-founded Anime Overload about how much we're not looking forward to Marvel Comics' launch of the new Marvel Now! line. (And I have to post a rant/topic about that later, for the entire Internet to hate and disagree with me on.)

I've been doing a lot, and I've been doing it for you, all three of you who subscribe to this thing that I'm doing. Because I secretly hate you and want you to suffer through my lousy entertainment writing as much as I have to suffer through writing it. Just kidding, I love writing about entertainment, and I love you.

So bear with me if I get quiet. I have a lot to say, I just need to finish getting it all together to talk about first. If nothing else, you'll have a bunch of Weekend Flashbacks to read and regret your prior life choices. You're welcome.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Weekend Flashback #2 - Crash Team Racing (1999, PSOne)

Title: Crash Team Racing
Original Release Date: September 30, 1999
Platform: Playstation
ESRB Rating: E

Remember when the Crash Bandicoot series was fun? Yeah, me too, and let me guarantee you that it had everything to do with its developer, Naughty Dog. The proof for that became clear as soon as they stopped developing the games themselves and the franchise got passed around from developer to developer like a hooker at a frat party. The quality and overall playability of the games went downhill pretty steadily until finally I just gave up hope entirely.

When I bought this game, it came in a three-pack "Collector's Edition" of Crash Bandicoot titles. Those titles were Crash Bandicoot: Warped, Crash Team Racing, and Crash Bash. Out of the three games that the collector's edition box I bought, the only two I still have are CB:W and CTR.

Care to guess what the only one I still play is?

That's right, CTR. The game is so simple, yet so undeniably fun that it almost should be criminal. Dave and I spent a good year playing through the story, doing all the time trials, gathering crystals, and playing against one another for no benefit or prize other than "we can." Even now, I'm the only one out of the two of us to have a perfect 100% completion in the game. But I'm not the only one who still plays it. 

Just a couple of days ago, my friend Nicole and I sat down with nothing better to do than play a good time-wasting game. We mutually picked out CTR because we remembered how fun it was. Hoping that it wasn't just a case of rose-colored glasses, we popped it into my PSOne and away we went.

Crash Team Racing is another example of a timeless, fun game, as far as playability goes. This game is as easy to pick up and play now as it was when it came out in '99. The music is a little dated, and the graphics are much more angular than anything we'd see today outside of catching a Porygon in Pokemon. But there are no game-breaking bugs, no annoying clipping errors or awkward camera angles to speak of. There's just the ability to beat another friend in a race and some infuriatingly difficult boss races in story mode.

Verdict: Still incredibly fun after all these years, even though the music, sound effects, and visuals haven't aged very well. Worth a play for story mode alone, but it's more fun with other people.

Notes: You can purchase the game on PSN if you want to relive the experience on your PS3. The original game also plays really well on the PS2 without problem.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Topic: Video Game OSTs

You know what I love? Video game music. So it really curls my figurative tail when people insist to me that it doesn't matter, that it's a trivial part of a game. I feel that video game soundtracks are a versatile medium that, like classical music, is capable of conveying a lot of different emotions all in one piece.

That seems like a really bold claim, but hear me out before ripping me a new one. Music by itself is an art medium that transcends a lot of barriers: time, language, age, you name it. Anyone can feel the emotion in an opera, even if they don't speak Italian, for example. The same thing can be said for a video game soundtrack. Even listened to out of order, even if the listener has no idea about the setting, theme, or feeling of the game, they can guess by listening to its soundtrack.

Take this, for example. It's a piece from Namco's Tales of Symphonia. It's a specific character's theme. To be exact, it's the theme of Zelos Wilder, one of the party members that you pick up along your journey. Let's jot down a couple things we notice about his theme as we listen to it:

  1. It's got a fast tempo. It's upbeat.
  2. It's a major chord. It sounds happy. Listening to it, in turn, makes you feel happy.
  3. We can pick out a couple of instruments in there. Steel drums and ukuleles are two of the first things that we hear. Both of those instruments are associated with laid back attitudes.
  4. The song isn't all that serious sounding; it's lighthearted and almost fun.
So, if we had to guess anything about this character, it'd be what we learned just from listening to the theme here. He must be a laid back, upbeat, cheery kind of character. He must be someone who can keep the group going even when the going gets rough, right?

Okay, that was a fun exercise. Now, let's listen to that again, with a little change.

What do you notice now? It's the same song. It's for the same character, from the same game. But its presentation is completely different. Let's name the ways.
  1. It's very slow. It's down tempo.
  2. It's still a major chord, but played with a harmony in minor. Minor harmonies and chords are indicative of feeling sad. This song is no exception.
  3. We can still pick out a couple of instruments here. One of them seems to be a guitar. Another appears to be a cello. The brass is synthesized, but we can tell that it's supposed to be a brass section, and we can hear some bells. Together, they paint a picture of sadness.
The tempo and the choices of instruments are important; they let us know what we're supposed to feel. The song itself can reveal more about the story, or the point in the plot, than any amount of dialogue or animation can. Most importantly, the music can tell a person who's never even played the game before that something happens to this character, or that this character does something that is going to make us feel something. It has to, or the change in song wouldn't be there.

Music in video games can tell us a lot about the environment of a specific place, too, not just about character. Let's move away from JRPGs and move onto a western game. (As in, a game made in the west, not a game about gun-slinging and horseback riding.)

Let's use Assassin's Creed 2 for an example. This is the theme for Venice Rooftops. It's atmospheric, and sets the mood perfectly for a few key points in the game. We can tell that it's evocative of being in the air, or at least off the ground. It's flighty, in a way, and has an almost uplifting feel to it. But it's rooted in the sense of urgency that it carries in its undertones. Even with the desperation that's present, it carries a push to it that makes you keep wanting to move forward. It's the perfect song to set the mood for a game like AC2, because even though you'd like to explore what's probably the best virtual recreation of Renaissance Italy, you still have to be careful and keep your head down. By this point in the game, you're a wanted man. The music alone is able to remind you of this while seldom letting you know with words how important it is that you be careful. 

The entire soundtrack is like that. Hauntingly beautiful, awe-inspiring even though it carries a heavy weight within its notes.That's important in a game, especially one with as much atmosphere as Assassin's Creed. Trying to convey all those emotions with only words would be tiring. Music hits a resonance with us on a primal, almost subconscious level. Effective music is as important for setting moods and making us feel things as connecting with characters and an interest in a story. Everyone has that one song that they can't listen to without tearing up. (Admit it, you do.) 

Why? Because it resonates. Music is able to intertwine with our emotions in a way other art forms - written words, acted events, painted scenes - can't always connect with us. It's why we can feel the sadness in Zelos' theme up there but we can't always feel sad for Aunt Bertha when she sends us her monthly letter from prison. Maybe if she composed some sort of concerto, we'd be able to feel bad for her.

Try playing a video game with no soundtrack sometime. Just go into options and turn off your background music but leave your sound effects and voiceovers on. See how invested you are in the story then. I can almost ensure that you'll think that there's something missing. You'd be right, because a good chunk of the story can only be found while you're listening to the music, even if you don't notice it consciously. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Weekend Flashback #1 - Ratchet and Clank (2002, PS2)

Title: Ratchet and Clank
Original Release Date: November 4, 2002
Platform: Playstation 2
ESRB Rating: T

There's a couple of reasons why I've decided to choose Ratchet and Clank  as the first "Weekend Flashback" installment. First off, it's because this year is the franchise's tenth anniversary. (Oh my god, I'm so old.) Second of all, it's because the Ratchet and Clank Collection is coming out later this year, and it's a re-release of the first three games in the series in pretty high-def. (I've included a link to preorder it at the end of this post.) I'm just not patient enough to wait until then to play R&C again. I'm like Veruca Salt; I want it now.

So, I reached into the handy gaming cabinet and got it.

I have a lot of fond memories of playing this game with Dave when it came out. Parts of it were frustratingly difficult, and others I breezed right through. There were moments that I would eventually give up on and actually have him complete for me because I was sick of spending days stuck on the same planet and watching him progress way ahead of me. To me, this is the perfect game to revisit first because of both its anniversary and because of the memories that it evokes.

And the greatest thing about this game, I think, is that it's aged fairly well. It's definitely cruder than the pretty R&C: Future installments we've grown used to seeing, but it doesn't - by any means - look outdated, old, or poor. Even being played on my PS2, on the family's flat-screen HDTV, the game looks nice. I've seen modern Wii games that look worse than this does.

Though that might just say something about the Wii.

And the gameplay, while sometimes more irritating than I remember it being, also isn't bad. It's mostly being used to tighter gameplay mechanics than the PS2 could really offer ten years ago. The rest of it is just being used to the way the series works now and forgetting how it worked when I was thirteen. It's sometimes tough to get my jumps timed right from platform to platform or over a long distance. That's gameplay mechanics. But the rest of it is me trying to shoot with the R1 button instead of the circle and getting my ass unfortunately handed to me. It's led to a lot of laughing and good-natured swearing between both my father and myself as we tried to play through the game, recalling the places that gave us a hard time ten years ago.

I did happen to notice a couple things now (probably because I'm older) than I did then. The biggest one, for me, was how completely obnoxious Ratchet is. In later games, namely the Future arc, he took more to the battle-weary hero archetype. In R&C, I found him to be selfish and childish, and found myself fairly short-tempered at his attitude - the constant backtalking, his needless overuse of snark - and honestly couldn't wait for him to shut up. After the original R&C, he was much more likable, more "mature" I guess, and it's his current personae that I attribute with today's Ratchet. If he'd stayed the same from this game to the next onee, I can't imagine the series being nearly as successful.

Verdict: Overall, the original Ratchet and Clank, the one that started it all, is still a solid game. It's still fun to play, getting all the hidden golden bolts still drives me crazy, and unlocking all the skill points still keeps me up until ungodly hours of the morning. Some of the controls seem clunky and awkward in retrospect, and moving around in the overworld doesn't seem as tight now as it did then. But it's still a great way to pass a couple of days to revisit the story if you don't have anything better to do and you can stand Ratchet's douchebaggery for more than a few hours at a time.

Notes:  You can pre-order The Ratchet and Clank Collection from

Welcome to the Weekend Flashback!

Welcome to the very first Weekend Flashback, where I take a game that's a decade or older and replay it for funsies. We all know that not all games age gracefully, but looked pretty damn good at the time they were released. Well, between the totally amazing Dave and myself, we have plenty of classic games between us. And, more often than not, we sit around and continue to play old games together rather than tackle the massive amount of newer games facing us.

Why is that? Because many older games have so much fun built into a simple game mechanic that we find a lot of other games can't compare. So, I've decided to revisit a lot of the old games in our library to see if they're still fun. I'll be dusting off the games that Dave and I wasted days on when I was a kid to see if they're still as playable now as they were then, and all to answer the question: Is this game still fun?

There's a few criteria that I'll be using in my judgement:

  1. All games that I'll be looking at have to be ten years old or older. Why? Because that's given the graphics a chance to age, given game mechanics a plenty long time to evolve, and given the game enough time to both be forgotten and for me to forget how good/bad it was overall. I'm more likely to punish myself through a bad game again if I forgot how frustrating it was the first time aroung.
  2. It doesn't matter if a game has been re-released on some kind of "virtual console" platform. Chances are high - and I'll tell you otherwise, I promise - that I'll be playing it on its original system. So if something was released for the PSone, I'll be busting out my PSone and playing it. If something came out on the N64, that's where I'll be playing it. I'll stack it up against its re-released version if I happen to own it, but for the most part, this is truly classic gaming being played true to its roots.
  3. Finally, in the case of games that have been localized to the US, I'll be using the game's US release date as my definitive guide for age, unless I'm using the imported version of the game. If I'm using a non-US version, I'll say so before I start my write up.

You won't see games like Super Mario Bros. or the original Legend of Zelda on the Weekend Flashback. Why? Because we already know that they've 1) aged gracefully and 2) are still fun. Games like that regularly show up on "Best Video Game" lists of all sorts, and it's clear why: they were industry leaders in their day, and we're still seeing their influences on modern gaming. I'm looking pointedly at games that might have gotten themselves overlooked when they came out, or that might have fallen into the sands of time only to be forgotten as newer games overshadowed them.

This week, I'll be starting with Insomniac Games' Ratchet and Clank from 2002. That post will go live in about an hour, so check back later and see if the first game in the best-selling installment is still worth a play.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Review: Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe Issue #1

Picture from
Little known fact: I love comics. I have since I was a little kid. Here's another little known fact: Deadpool, the Merc with a Mouth,  was my first ever superhero. I discovered him around issue three or four of his '97 run and it's been love ever since.

So I was understandably excited when news of Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe started to circulate. It took the same 'Pool that I'd grown up reading and gave him a decidedly dark, sinister turn. My only hope was that it was going to be convincing, that all of Deadpool's wit and snark could still fit within a darker universe.

All my dreams have come true within the first issue. Wade is still witty and snide, but thanks to the writing and his own underlying insanity, he's just short of completely despicable. We're introduced to the same Deadpool that most readers will be used to, but thanks to the "intervention" of the X-Men, we get to see a side of Wade that isn't usually apparent. By the end of the issue, all the pieces are in play and, thanks to Deadpool's trademark fourth-wall breaking, the reader gets to feel the threat level of the Marvel 'verse rising to critical levels firsthand by being indirectly addressed themselves.

We don't get to see a lot of bloodshed yet, but the promise is there for much more to come in the following three weeks as the series plays out. Given how it's started, I've been hooked and I'm ready to go along for the ride.

Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe #1 is written by Cullen Bunn, drawn by Dalibor Talajić, and colored by Lee Loughridge. Issue one is available now, and new issues will be released weekly.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why I Hate the Start of New Semesters: An Introspective Look

The new semester started for me on Monday, and it marks a few big things. Firstly, it kicks off my last semester in my Associate's program. Secondly, it beats my ass down into a rhythm and schedule that it's gotten used to not having over winter break. And thirdly, it opens that old can of worms that is, in a nutshell, all my phobias and paranoias at once.

You might think that last part sounds silly, but the start of a new semester brings me more stress than it does anything else. And I'm not talking about things like getting lost on campus (it's small) or not being able to get my books (because my aunt buys them online as long as I keep my grades up) or thinking my professor is going to be a dick (because they're all pretty decent people.) I'm talking about big, panic-inducing things like:

  • Obsessing over the male/female ratio of the class I signed up for.
    That might not seem like a big deal, the male/female ratio of a class of students, especially when I talk so casually about hanging out with friends and meeting people. But the first day of class presents me with more stress than anything else because being in a room with strangers makes me feel vulnerable to begin with. Being in a room full of strangers who are all men amplifies that tenfold, even though I've historically gotten along better with men than with women. I feel more comfortable when there's at least four to six other women in a classroom with me, even though chances are I won't talk to one of those women. As it stands, for the first two weeks of classes, I won't talk to anyone unless I absolutely have to, and that leads me to...
  • I hate having to make new connections and meet new people.
    This is where it starts getting sticky. When I go into a classroom full of other people, I go there to learn things and listen to what the professor has to say, and read my Facebook if he starts getting boring. I don't go into class to make friends. So, nine times out of ten, I'll be sitting in class minding my own business and someone starts talking to me and I'll freeze. I'm not exactly socially awkward, but talking and meeting new people has never been my greatest skill. So when someone does talk to me, I have to mentally reboot and think of something to say back while trying not to look like some kind of socially stunted community college kid. Half the time, the response I give out is prickly, short, or offhanded. That's not because I don't want to know you, per se, it's just because I'm dealing with so much stress that I don't know what to do with myself, let alone this person next to me who just asked what my major is.
  • Not knowing if there's anyone else I know in class.
    This is a good one. I work in my college's greenhouse, and one of the things I've heard my professor say before is, "You act differently in here with me than you do out in the hall or in class." When I asked him to clarify, he told me that outside of class, unless I'm with a friend, I'm more prone to flee from groups, avert my eyes from contact, and sit away from central locations and just be by myself. But when I'm with people I know (as well as when I'm in the greenhouse,) he pointed out, I'm more likely to be open, to tell jokes and meet new people. So his question was, why the change in personae? Because having people with me who already know my personality makes it easier for me to act like that in front of other people. My friends already know that I'm prone to sudden song and dance, that I like to tell jokes and tell anecdotes. They don't give me a whole lot of grief for who I am, because we're fairly like-minded people to begin with. So when I'm already with a group of people "like me" it's easier for me to apply that to group settings. It's easier for me to do the things that I do, because I won't be "that weird girl who bursts into song." Instead, I'll be "that weird girl who bursts into song with those other guys." So when I walk into a classroom and see people I know, that stress level goes down by a whole lot, and it makes it easier to adjust to a new setting.
  • I contemplate dropping a class depending on what the room looks like.
    And by "what the room looks like," I mean that whole male/female ratio thing and the friends in class thing, not "this room is yellow and it sucks, so I'm not taking this class." I'll stay in a class for a week before deciding if I'm going to stay or not. If the male/female ratio doesn't work itself out, or if there's no one in my class that I know, I'm more likely to drop that class than I am if there's a lot of women in the room, or if I have a friend I can sit next to.
My classes this semester are a really great example of this. I'm in three classes that I need to finish my degree: a lab science, a social science, and an English elective. Each one of these classes pretty neatly describe all the points that I noted above that make me really nervous.

In my lab science, the men far outweigh the women almost 2:1. But I know a woman in the class who was nice enough to sit next to me. She's not a friend in the strictest form of the word, but we've had a class together before and we got along well and I felt comfortable in her presence, so when I saw her walk into the room, it was a complete relief.

My social science, by comparison, is mostly women with just a few men. We outnumber them at a fairly high 3:1. I have no problems with those numbers, I sit beside a bunch of girls, and I've already started talking to a few of them. It's a more comfortable atmosphere than my lab, and I feel like I can cope better.

Lastly, my English class has two people that I not only know, but that I'm good friends with. And I know these two people well enough to know that they'd get along well together, to boot. So even though it's mostly men in the class, I have two people I'm really, really close to in class with me, and no one else matters. We can sit in a corner and chat before class, and then communicate through our series of eye rolls and grins during class. I wouldn't even consider switching out to another class, because this one is fun.

It doesn't seem like it'd be a big deal about who would be around you in a classroom, but those are the first things that I take note of every semester on the first week of classes. I become a week-long nervous wreck until I can calm down and start communicating with people like a normal human being. In a week, I'll be fine, but until then, I'll be a trainwreck.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Well, it's a new year...

This year, I'm going to try harder to update. I'm realizing that there's a lot of stuff I've been noodling around with that I could/should/wanted to put up here but never did. So, this year, there's going to be more posts from this guy.

Here's hoping I can maintain that enthusiasm.